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Creating States

Creating States: Studies in the Performative Language of John Milton and William Blake

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 245
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  • Book Info
    Creating States
    Book Description:

    A study of the language of visionary poetry, making use of the principles of speech-act philosophy to analyze the creative properties of utterance from the Bible to the work of Milton and Blake.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7357-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. References and Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PROLOGUE: Words, Worlds, Acts, and Visions
    (pp. xiii-2)

    This is an essay exploring the way certain writers do things with words. The writers are, primarily, John Milton and William Blake, and what they do is put into words a consciousness of divine inspiration or an experience of expanded perception, asking the reader to accept their utterance as emanating from a transcendent authority either external or internal to the self. Their language, in presenting itself as inspired or visionary, posits two related moments of effectual discourse: the poets themselves have heard a voice that alters their perception of the world, and they set out to communicate this verbal experience...

  5. 1 Performative Language and Visionary Poetry
    (pp. 3-41)

    While speech-act theoryper seis relatively uncommon as a primary approach to the interpretation of literature, its terms have been so widely disseminated in literary and cultural study that ‘performative’ can now be used loosely to describe discourse which is operative in society and establishes a social construct, or even, following Paul de Man, to denote the rhetorical dimension of language in general. For both these reasons, this chapter and the following one will work toward a somewhat more technical definition of ‘performative’ which is specifically relevant to the reading of visionary texts. This will not be an exclusive...

  6. 2 Speech Acts and World-Creation
    (pp. 42-64)

    While taking into account the concern of some speech-act critics with the phenomenological dimension of poetic utterance, or the way poetry seems able to bring a world into being simply by positing it, the previous chapter located this concern within the context of a theory that regards the speech act primarily as a social construct. The present chapter begins at the other extreme, to delineate a model of performative language that may seem to have little in common with the Austinian speech act. This is the ideal performativity of divine language, epitomized in the Judeo-Christian tradition by God’s act of...

  7. 3 The Language of Inspiration in Milton’s Prose
    (pp. 65-87)

    A writer who is going to create his or her own system discovers a matrix of problems inherent in cosmogony and beginnings. So Milton realizes, and Blake after him, when they take on the task of putting the world into words. Whatever the consciousness of being inspired means for these poets on the level of language (and that is one question I will be addressing), it is somehow bound up with the originality of the work and the uniqueness of the message. Being thus engaged, on a fundamental level, with the problem of origin, both poets return to and revise...

  8. 4 Paradise Lost: The Creation of Poetry and the Poetry of Creation
    (pp. 88-118)

    In the Latin ofDe Doctrina Christiana, Milton follows the tradition of Ficino, Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin in translatinglogosassermo, the spoken word, rather than asverbum, the static philosophical idea. The resulting emphasis on orality and communication – that is, on aspects of language which have special relevance for a Protestant poet – is borne out by the analogy between God’s use of language and the poet’s inParadise Lost. In the invocations, Milton characterizes the inspired language for which he pleads by appealing to the paradigm of creation by the word. Conversely, in book 7, he...

  9. 5 The Circumference of Vision: Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience
    (pp. 119-145)

    From his earliest nineteenth-century devotees to present-day academics, readers of William Blake have had to come to terms with his insistent claim that he is an inspired poet. This is a writer whose major epics dramatize the process of his own inspiration, so that he can appropriate for himself the strident bardic cry ‘I am Inspired! I know it is Truth! for I Sing / According to the inspiration of the Poetic Genius’ (M13.51–14.1, E 107–8), and whose private annotations equally proclaim that ‘Inspiration & Vision was then & now is & I hope will always Remain my Element my...

  10. 6 Binding the Infinite: Blake’s Brief Epics
    (pp. 146-173)

    The equivocal allusions to Genesis in the ‘Introduction’ toSongs of Experienceforeshadow Blake’s rejection of most aspects of biblical cosmogony in his later works. With greater deliberateness than Milton inParadise Lost, Blake unseats divine creation from its position as originary act and reassigns the central images of the opening chapters of Genesis a place within the larger myth he himself has organized:

    Albion was the Parent of the Druids; & in his Chaotic State of Sleep Satan & Adam & the whole World was Created by the Elohim. (J27, E 171)

    According to Blake’s radical, fundamentally Gnostic interpretation of Genesis, creation...

  11. 7 Blake’s Jerusalem: Statements and States
    (pp. 174-220)

    The claim that Blake’s texts do things or create worlds is in itself hardly revolutionary. Even a quantitative analysis of the type undertaken by Josephine Miles four decades ago encourages an emphasis on the relative and dynamic, rather than the constative and static, elements of Blake’s poetry. While Blake inherits the eighteenth-century predilection for ‘physical, descriptive, onomatopoetic, invocative, and declarative’ language, Miles concludes, he tends to bring out these qualities through verbal forms, favouring ‘the participial sort of meaning’ which reveals ‘the motion observed in process’ (85). The participle, a verbal form that commonly functions as an adjective (‘the laughing...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-238)
  13. Index
    (pp. 239-245)